12 Ecologically Sustainable Countries and Why They Should Be Admired
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With last week's news that Earth’s resources have slipped into an "ecological deficit" for the rest of 2014, many countries around the world have come under scrutiny for taking more from nature then their own ecosystems can supply.
What exactly is this ecological debt? Essentially, it means we have used up all the planet’s natural resources available for an entire year—think deforestation, soil erosion and carbon dioxide emissions—so now we’re running a deficit. In other words, human consumption has exceeded our planet’s capacity to regenerate. The calculations are based on dividing the amount of ecological resources the planet is able to provide in a year by humanity’s demand and multiplying it by 365.
It is now estimated that 86% of the world's population live in countries that require more from nature than their ecosystems can provide. According to the Global Footprint Network, if everybody were to live like Americans, it would take four Earths to support the global population. The U.S. was ranked 33 on the 2014 environmental performance index (EPI). Consequently, several countries have begun to adopt the ecological footprint model, which demonstrates the energy and resources consumed in each country per person to raise awareness and educate populations about resource demand.
In the interest of curbing our own ecological overspending, here’s a list of 12 countries with ecologically sustainable policies.
1. Iceland. Iceland scores high on the EPI for its commendable sustainable development policies on climate change, for limiting greenhouse gases and for its clean energy economy which has been a magnet for foreign industrial investments with regards to modernizing aluminum smelters.
Iceland is renowned for transforming its energy system so that 100% of its electricity production as well as all its house heating is now provided by domestic renewable energy resources of hydroelectric power (thanks to its abundance of rivers) and geothermal reserves. It also has low air pollution, high water quality and runs hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses in the capital of Reykjavik, increasing its sustainability. The country’s greenhouse agriculture has also diversified the farming sector enabling the country to enjoy the domestic production of tomatoes, cucumber and peppers.
2. Switzerland. Switzerland topped the 2014 EPI list for its ecological and green policies, even though it is “resource constrained” by virtue of its fenced-in geographical location. But thanks to some innovative environmental management practices, Switzerland has become one of the most sustainable nations in the world in the areas of climate change, biodiversity and habitat protection. Over the past five years, the Swiss introduced 15 regional parks with two additional national parks underway, scoring higher than any other country for protected terrestrial areas. It also houses the densest rail network in Europe and provides free recycling services while charging for routine garbage collection.
Thirty-one percent of the country is covered in forests, which provides a lucrative timber industry creating hundreds of thousands of jobs —most Swiss homes are constructed of wood. More than half of its domestic electricity production comes from hydropower plants and another 40% from nuclear power. In 2013, it reset its goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to at least 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, Huffington Post reported.
3. Costa Rica. This tropical wildlife haven is one of the most ecologically sustainable countries in the world, thanks to its renowned rainforest conservation programs and the government’s dedication to preserving its forest and water systems—25% of the land is protected as reserves and national parks. According to the United Nations, Costa Rica produces over 90% of its electricity through renewable means such as hydroelectric, geothermal and wind power.